Preview: UFC 262 ‘Oliveira vs. Chandler’ - Oliveira vs. Chandler

By: Tom Feely
May 14, 2021

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While late removals have taken a lot of depth from UFC 262 on Saturday at the Toyota Center, the pay-per-view portion remains an excellent slate for fans both in Houston and at home. The main event—which pits Charles Oliveira against Michael Chandler to crown the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first post-Khabib Nurmagomedov lightweight titleholder—looks to be about as excellent a fight as the promotion can put together nowadays, and it comes with strong support. Perennial contender Tony Ferguson looks to snap his current skid against Beneil Dariush in an intriguing lightweight co-headliner, and the pay-per-view opener between Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza is nearly guaranteed to provide fireworks. Add in two fights that should help clear up the contender pictures in their respective divisions, and this should be a good time.

Now to the preview for the UFC 262 “Oliveira vs. Chandler” main card:

UFC Lightweight Championship

#3 LW | Charles Oliveira (30-8, 18-8 UFC) vs. #4 LW | Michael Chandler (22-5, 1-0 UFC)

ODDS: Oliveira (-135), Chandler (+115)

Oliveira for years was the prime example of how the UFC’s ruthless approach to matchmaking could harm a talented fighter in the long term, so it would be amazingly impressive if he turned things around to the point of becoming a UFC champion. Oliveira burst onto the UFC scene in 2010 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old with a penchant for beautiful submissions, and he used those skills to put away Darren Elkins and Efrain Escudero in his first two Octagon bouts. Naturally, the UFC subsequently threw “Do Bronx” in over his head. Two of his next three bouts resulted in first-round losses to divisional stalwarts Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. Rather than serve as learning experiences, that matchmaking seemed to permanently damage Oliveira’s confidence, giving him a reputation as a bit of a flake. He was still capable of some creative and vicious finishes—he now holds the UFC record for most submission wins—but would quickly crumble when opponents could turn the tide of the fight against him. After ending 2017 with a loss to Paul Felder—it was his fourth defeat in six fights—the book seemed to clearly be written on Oliveira, which has made his subsequent winning streak an extremely pleasant surprise. His February 2019 bout against David Teymur, the fourth stop on his current eight-win run, was a clear turning point for the Brazilian. He suffered an eye poke that would have taken the old Oliveira mentally out of the fight, but instead, he fought back and put his stamp on a second-round finish. After racking up a few more wins, 2020 was the year in which Oliveira affirmed that his new resolve was enough to make him a title contender. A main event victory over Kevin Lee set him up for a big fight, which wound up being a masterful three-round performance against Tony Ferguson that saw Oliveira march down, outwrestle and essentially have his way with the former interim champion. With Khabib Nurmagomedov retiring, Oliveira deservedly wound up as one of two fighters to get the call for the vacant lightweight title fight, and he will face another tough challenge in Chandler.

Somehow, it has been nearly a decade since Chandler unseated Eddie Alvarez as Bellator’s lightweight champion in an all-time great fight that established him as one of the best 155-pound fighters in the world. Over the next nine years, Chandler would continue to establish his reputation and become one of the most decorated fighters in Bellator history. Upon signing with the UFC in September, there were some questions about how he would fare against the elite lightweights in his new promotion. A stocky former wrestler, Chandler’s style is built around pressure and power, which happened to make for a good fit against the rest of the Bellator roster, as most of his opponents were either crafty but aging UFC veterans or other short fighters who were athletically overmatched. Chandler’s first UFC fight figured to answer a lot of questions, as the promotion matched him against one of its tougher tests on paper. Dan Hooker was both a large lightweight and historically unbreakable, so his combination of length and durability figured to cause a lot of problems for Chandler’s best weapons. In practice, Chandler passed his test in flying colors, blasting Hooker for a shocking knockout in just two and a half minutes. The only subsequent question centered on whether or not Chandler would be the choice to fight for the vacant lightweight belt, and it is hard to argue with him getting this shot.

This is essentially a coinflip fight, but while it is difficult to parse on paper, the key dynamics could become clear within the first few minutes. First, it will be interesting to see who cedes ground in terms of pressure. Oliveira typically looks to start marching down shorter opponents, but Chandler has the level of power to test the Brazilian’s newfound resolve in a way that recent opponents just have not possessed. If Oliveira can eat Chandler’s punches and keep marching him down, it figures to be a long night at the office for the former Bellator champion. Oliveira has shown the better gas tank of the two, and if Chandler is losing the battle on the feet, the Brazilian’s vaunted submission game might prevent him from using his wrestling as a viable escape hatch. On the other side of the equation, if Oliveira is affected by Chandler’s punching power, things could start going south quickly for the Brazilian. Even with his recent performances, any seeds of doubt being planted in Oliveira’s mind have to be cause for concern that he might revert into his own crumbling ways. If this fight goes any length of time, it should favor Oliveira, if only because that proves he can handle Chandler’s initial bursts of powerful offense and keep his composure. Even if Oliveira is much stronger mentally than he has been at any point in his career, the fact is that Chandler offers a level of precision and power in his punching that he has not had to stand up to in recent years; and even if Oliveira can mentally gut through things, his body might not be quite as willing. While it would be fascinating to see this go the distance, the pick is Chandler via first-round knockout.

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